Jo Addison: Not Trees and People
TINTYPE Gallery, London
18 September - 26 October 2013
Review by Ciara Healy
‘Not Trees and People’ is a perpetually ripening exploration of words and their tyranny. This first solo exhibition at the recently relocated Tintype Gallery is based indirectly on Jo Addison’s experiences of watching her young son learn to speak. Navigating a world where every noun is tied down, her work, like her toddler’s infallible curiosity, slithers effortlessly through fixed meanings, until it could almost create another gravity, another day and night, puncturing our assumptions as it goes. Built up slowly over long periods of time, Addison’s Neapolitan pink rolls of clay and cut sheets of parcel brown card are anthropomorphic and intuitive, creating a caress-shaped shelter from our current reality.
This idea is seen most gesturally in ‘Unkk’ (2013), a wooden half cylinder with what looks like a chomp bite cut into its side: ‘Unkk’ being the most appropriately onomatopoeic title for something that has just been swallowed.
‘Remainder’ (2013) on the other hand, alludes to an internal organ. It is made from a collection of remnant clay cuts and chunks, pieces which were removed during the process of making other works. These gooseberry bruise coloured slithers seem to pulsate like a heartbeat on the surface, coated in a white-washed clay-slip blood.
The demarcations between the ingested, the internal and the external are therefore porous in Addison’s work; embodied and disembodied at once. This notion is lovingly translated into ‘Think - Thing (Pole)’ (2011), a pastel pink gouache-coated roll of clay which refers to John Wyndham’s apocalyptic book ‘The Chrysalids’; a story of children with secret telepathic powers, who have the capacity to ‘think’ in physical objects. Their thought-objects expose the repressive reality in which they live as merely one of many other possible realms. ‘Think-Thing (Pole)’ consequently alludes to the imagination and the possibility of infinite expansion.
By encouraging transformation through discovery, rather than the defence of what is already known, Addison’s practice defies categorisation, and protects against what Guattari (1989) calls reductionist stereotypical order-words. This is seen most poetically in ‘Flap’ (2013), an egg-yolk yellow hinged door on the gallery wall, disguising a possible threshold entrance into elsewhere.
While each object on show has a particular function and role, it is not immediately apparent to the viewer what its purpose might be. Like children, the objects have a sense of certainty, even when they appear ambiguous. Projecting a role, willing or forcing them to behave in a certain way, only prevents them from becoming.
The playful, elusive and lyrical nature of Addison’s work quietly acknowledges the ominous darkness of our current reality, whilst simultaneously reminding us that alternative, more hopeful perspectives have always existed. ‘Not Trees and People,’ suggests that the material world is capable of exceeding every conscious glimpse we glean of it and every linguistic structure we impose on it. Re-opening our eyes to such a prospect might just rekindle our childlike abilities to navigate rigidity with laughter and dreams once more.